Megadrought at Utah’s Great Salt Lake Seen From Space in Shocking Images

Shocking new satellite images have shown that Utah’s Great Salt Lake is vanishing amid the megadrought gripping the southwestern United States.

The lake’s water levels are now at the lowest ever recorded, according to US Geological Survey data.

The satellite images, shared by the European Space Agency, show how the water level has fallen from 1985 to 2022, revealing “large expanses of lake bed.”

Great salt lake

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Two images from 1985 and 2022 show how the Great Salt Lake is drying up due to the southwestern megadrought. To the left, is the lake pictured in 1985. To the right, is the lake captured in July 2022.

The image from 2022 shows the body of water has dramatically shifted in size. The lake once spanned 8,550 square kilometers (3,301 square miles) during its high point in the 1980s. Since then, 2000 square kilometers of the lakebed have been exposed. It now only holds one-quarter of the volume of water it used to.

A megadrought caused by climate change is thought to be the main reason for the lake’s declining water levels.

The drought has gripped the southwestern United States for over 20 years. As of March 2022, the US Drought Monitor confirmed that over 20 percent of land in the southwestern US was severally affected.

The Great Salt Lake’s water levels rely on seasonal water cycles. It replenishes as snow melts and after rainfall. However, the drought has meant that the water is evaporating faster than it can be replenished.

It’s the largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere and it’s an integral part of the native ecosystem. Migratory birds rely on brine shrimp that live in the lake as a food source. As it continues to dry up, brine shrimp will die off, forcing the birds to move away from the area, in search of food.

The lake also plays a huge role in determining the local climate. Through a process called the “lake effect” it can increase precipitation in the area, causing snow.

The European Space Agency said that water levels are expected to keep decreasing through to autumn and early winter.

As the lake bed becomes exposed, the dry soil also increases dust levels in the air, causing poor air quality. According to the space agency, this dust contains copper and other heavy metals from mining activity in the area. This can pose public health issues.

One satellite image shows the level of “average aerosol concentrations near the open-areas of the lake bed produced using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite from 1 June to 15 July 2022.” The image shows the high levels of dangerous dust expanding in the area.

Great Salt lake
An image shows the levels of dust expanding across the area as the lake bed becomes exposed. Much of it is laced with copper and heavy metals due to mining activities.
contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2022, processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Water from the lake is also fed into residential areas. Due to the drought, there has been increased water demand in the state. Salt Lake City is a rapidly expanding area, meaning there are more people using its resources, but the government is urging citizens to curb their water usage as the lake continues to dry out.

The Great Salt Lake isn’t the only one being affected by the ongoing drought. Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, has also been rapidly drying up due to the drought. The water moving through the Hoover Dam provides electricity for hundreds of thousands of people living around the area. As the drought continues, there is a danger of the dam’s turbines no longer being able to generate power.

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